Drone photography company to pay record-sized fine

A drone company specialising in aerial photography has agreed to pay a record-sized fine to avoid the risk of an even larger penalty.

Chicago-based Skypan International had been accused of conducting 65 illegal flights in "congested airspace" over its home city and New York.

The Federal Aviation Administration had threatened a $1.9m (£1.5m) charge.

However, Skypan settled the case by agreeing to pay a $200,000 civil penalty.

It must also help the watchdog's drone-use education efforts and pay up to a further $300,000 if it breaks the law again.

The company pitches its service to architects, hotels and property developers as a way to envisage how planned projects will fit into their surroundings.

"SkyPan's flights were conducted two years before the FAA's first rule for commercial UAS [unmanned aerial systems] went into effect in August 2016," the company said in a statement.

"SkyPan has never had an accident, and SkyPan has never compromised citizens' privacy or security."

Prior to August, drone operators needed to have a pilot's licence to carry out commercial flights.

In addition, they had to seek permission from the FAA for each operation.

Under the new system, commercial drones can be flown as long as the pilot:

  • is over the age of 16
  • has passed a safety test
  • keeps the drone within sight
  • does not send the aircraft more than 400ft (122m) above ground level

The regulator is expected to issue further rules about flying drones over crowds in the coming months.